Mel Casson: 40-year Westport resident. King Features photoCartoonist legend Mel Casson, the writer and illustrator of the comic strip “Redeye,” died on May 21 at his Westport home. He was 87.
Casson was a 40-year Westport resident and lived on Guyer Road. For almost 20 years Casson illustrated “Redeye,” a parody strip about a 19th century tribe of Native Americans, for King Features Syndicate.
When cartoonist Bill Yates, who wrote the “Redeye” scripts, retired in 1999, Casson assumed full writing and drawing duties of the strip.
“King Features has been very fortunate to represent the work of Mel Casson over the years,” said Brendan Burford, King Features comics editor. “He put great care and craft into his cartoons, adding to the beauty of the comics page every day. He will be sorely missed.”
Casson was born in Boston on July 25, 1920. He was encouraged by his father to pursue a career in art. Seventeen-year-old Casson was the youngest cartoonist ever to sign a contract with the Saturday Evening Post.
He received a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York City and while there, his artwork began to appear regularly in the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, and nearly every other major magazine.
Casson enlisted in the infantry for service in World War II and made the Normandy Landing on D-Day. His commander was killed instantly upon reaching Omaha Beach, making Casson next in line to lead the attack.
Casson successfully led his men through the assault without casualties and went on to participate in all the major campaigns in Europe. For his valor, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and decorated with five battle stars: two Bronze stars, the Croix de Guerre and two Purple Hearts.
After returning home from service, Casson’s first strip was “Jeff Crockett” for the Herald Tribune Syndicate, which appeared between 1948 and 1952.
His career at the drawing board was interrupted once again when the Communists invaded South Korea and he was recalled to active duty.
After an honorable discharge, Casson’s career at the drawing board resumed once again with the creation of the children’s panels “Sparky” and “Angel” for the Publisher/Chicago Sun Times Syndicate, which ran between 1953 and 1966.
He co-created with cartoonists Alfred James and Alfred Andriola (“Kerry Drake”) on the strip “It’s Me Dilly” from 1958 to 1962.
He was a writer-producer for ABC-TV where he created the television shows “Draw Me a Laugh” and “You Be the Judge.”
He had five cartoon books published, including the anthology “Ever Since Adam and Eve” for McGraw Hill, the Whole Kids Catalogue, and the Guinness Record Keeper. His cartoons appeared in every national magazine and his drawings in advertisements for IBM, GE, Kodak and Black & Decker.
In the 1970s, Casson worked with cartoonist William F. Brown on the trendy “Mixed Singles” strip, which later evolved into “Boomer” and appeared until 1981 with United Feature Syndicate.
In 1990, Casson became the new artist of the internationally famous “Redeye” daily comic for King Features Syndicate, which he took over from its creator, Gordon Bess. Casson worked with Bill Yates on the panel until 1999.
Casson’s drawings are included in the collection of the Evansville, Ind., Fine Arts Museum and in the Albert T. Reid collection at the University of Kansas. His work was twice exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
All his personal papers and original drawings are available for study in the graphics library of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, with those of his mentor and best friend Milton Caniff of the famed strips “Steve Canyon” and “Terry and the Pirates.” Caniff, who was involved in Westport’s Famous Artists School for a time, died in 1988 at the age of 81.
Casson served on the Board of Governors of both the Newspaper Comics Council, where he was chairman of the 1964-65 World’s Fair Committee. and on the board of the National Cartoonists Society, whose Connecticut Chapter presented him the Legend Award in November 2003.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Lee Culver Casson, a former opera singer and actress, daughter Culver and grandchildren Remington Paris Cheffer and Lulu Culver Cheffer.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org.
Mel Casson was one of the nicest Westporters I’ve met! He was so talented, but more importantly a decent, wonderful, enthusiastic person, and I loved to bump into him and his “southern belle”, loving wife Mary Lee. The news of his death comes as a great shock. Westport has lost one of their best! I believe there will be a memorial service for him on Thursday, June 5th, 2 pm at the Greens Farms Congregational Church. Our condolences to Mary Lee, their daughter Culver and the grandchildren.